This is the Citroen DS3 Cabrio Racing, and it's a tad contradictory. The DS3 Racing is a stiffer, hardened version of Citroen's DS3 supermini, but this Cabrio version has been treated to a cosmetic roof that reduces stiffness and rigidity – yet that hasn’t stopped Citroen delivering a fun, potent hot hatch. It’s one of ten coming to the UK of a batch of 100 worldwide.
So what’s the Citroen DS3 Cabrio Racing all about?
You mighty remember the DS3 Racing from 2011. Well, this is the same spec bar the foldback roof, and it's just as capable with the same 6.5sec 0-62mph claim. That's despite a 65kg weight gain for the 204bhp 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder engine to carry.
DS3 Racing tweaks include 15mm lower suspension to add to that menacing look, while those gloss-black 18in alloys and matt grey paint are part of the Dark Lord aesthetic. But the contrasting red add-ons and chrome bootlid garnish – especially with the DS03 BOY number plates – means it’s not for the meek.
Despite being on sale since 2010, the DS3 is still a design delight, and the Racing only gives you more to examine as your eyes wander around the cabin. Every millimeter of this car has been tucked, twisted or treated to some flair, whether it’s the carbon on the steering wheel or the silver and red limited edition plaque ahead of the gear lever. The seats, proudly wearing ‘Citroen Racing’ lettering in the centre, are comfortable and supportive, yet you don’t have to be a jockey to fit into them. There’s loads of adjustment, too, so you can get the seat and the leather-wrapped steering wheel – which is a great size and feels premium – into a perfect position for great all-round visibility.
So how hot a hatch is it?
This is an excellent performance hatch. There’s some sweet irony in that the boy-racer looks have other drivers thinking this car is all about talking – but it can walk the walk. This is not a hatch in the vein of the old hard-edged Renaultsport Clio: you won’t need to see a chiropractor after driving down a B-road, as the ride isn’t back-breaking but rather plush for a hot hatch. In fact, everything – down to the space, the chair, and the engine note (which falls just short of a burble, as it's smooth and doesn't drone at all) – are all mother-in-law friendly.
It must be a cruiser rather than a proper performance hatch, right?
That's underestimating this superb car. Refreshingly, there are no confusing driving modes to choose from – it's just old-school point-and-shoot – but there is a unique switchable ESP setting. There's noticeable nose lift and dive when leaning on the four-piston front brakes, but that doesn't mean it lacks composure: it's all well controlled. The lift, the body roll and the grip are all predictable, so you never feel you’re teetering on the edge of oblivion. Even when you push that hard, the understeer and recovery are so controlled that you feel you’re working with it, as opposed to fighting the chassis.
The gearchange is smooth and accurate, and the steering weighs up quite well, even if you have to feed loads of lock and it’s not laser-precise. That’s all fine, because you can dance on the well-placed aluminium pedals, gently push that progressive throttle and slice and dice traffic, carve up corners, and – as long as you keep that engine above 2500rpm – it’ll respond quickly to changes of direction, requests for more forward punch, and pull up competently.
So it’s nice, not amazing?
The most amazing thing about the DS3 Cabrio Racing is the price: a whopping £29,305. Sadly, it doesn’t come with a cheeky £10k in the glove box, meaning it’s up against rivals a class above including the Seat Leon Cupra, Golf R, Subaru WRX STI and it's only a few thousand short of the stellar BMW M135i. That’s a big ask, and all of these cars are harder-edged, faster and more competent than the DS3 – as is the predictable VW Golf GTI which is bigger, faster, cheaper, and a better day-to-day proposition.
The DS3 Racing’s masterstroke is its blend of agility and balance: it’s not about outright, straightline performance – which, with 0-62mph in 6.5sec, it’s not bad at – but livable performance. It’s bloody fast, but with all its elements in tune with each other – the steering, the handling, throttle and brakes – making it immensely satisfying to drive.
It’s fun, lively and has the benefit of those design details the DS range uses to set itself apart from the lower-spec C-line Citroens. Is it worth the £9k more than the DS3 Sport? No, but it’s an unusual combo if you’re after the garish looks and that open-top. One for dedicated.